Aston University academics discuss treatment access and technology in podcast for World Diabetes Day

Aston University has released a new Aston Originals podcast to mark World Diabetes Day, with experts Dr Duane Mellor and Dr Srikanth Bellary discussing diabetes research at the University, and how the disease affects the surrounding communities in Birmingham.

World Diabetes Day is marked every year on 14 November and each year has a specific theme. In 2023, the theme is access to diabetes care, with a particular focus on the importance of people knowing their risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes has various complications, including circulatory problems, kidney problems and eye damage, and having access to the right information and care can greatly reduce the risk. One in 10 people in the world has diabetes, more than 90% of those have type 2 diabetes, which is triggered by lifestyle, and half of those have yet to be diagnosed. People with type 2 diabetes can delay or even prevent complications with treatment and healthy habits.

Dr Mellor is a senior lecturer at Aston Medical School and a registered dietitian, while Dr Bellary is a reader in metabolic medicine at Aston University School of Biosciences and an honorary consultant physician in diabetes and endocrinology at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

In the discussion, the researchers discuss the risk factors surrounding type 2 diabetes, including living with obesity. This is particularly in a problem in many areas of Birmingham, where deprivation is high. People living in less affluent areas tend to be less physically active, due to having less access to facilities and areas for recreation, and have less access to healthy foods, putting them at higher risk of obesity. They are also less likely to visit healthcare professionals, meaning that diabetes diagnosis can come late, with higher risk of complications. There is a lot of research at Aston University into tackling these inequalities.

While type 2 diabetes is generally thought of as a disease of older people, people under the age of 40 are increasingly being diagnosed. The risk is greatly increased in those living with obesity or those from black and South Asian communities. Dr Bellary is working to raise awareness of the disease in younger people, including in Aston University’s hugely diverse student population.

Dr Bellary said:

“At Aston we have started some research in this area and we have already characterised youth with type 2 diabetes to understand the risk factors that are contributing to it. We are also trying to look at the wider aspects of it, for example, how does it affect quality of life, what treatments work, what is the best medical care that these people should receive and how is it different from type 1 diabetes. It’s quite an expansive programme.”

Dr Mellor and Dr Bellary also discussed the huge impact of technology on diabetes treatment. Where once, a person with diabetes would have had to test their blood glucose levels multiple times per day, many now have continual blood glucose monitors, some linked to phone apps. Some patients have insulin pumps acting as an artificial pancreas, meaning they no longer have to inject themselves.

Dr Mellor said:

“Some, particularly older adults, may not be accessing these technologies. Some people from the communities we’ve been talking about may not have access to the technology and the type of devices to do that, so we need to look at that digital poverty, and access as well. I think when we’re looking at diabetes, we can’t forget that a lot of the problems and challenges we have with diabetes are down to inequality and unfairness in society.”

In the future, artificial intelligence (AI) could play a role in diabetes care, whether by prompting busy healthcare professionals to ask more questions in consultations, helping those professionals to manage the big data resulting from continual glucose monitoring, or helping patients access information via interactive educational ‘chatbots’.

The full podcast will go live at 00:01 on 14 November 2023 on the Aston Originals channel on YouTube.